Away from the party


The Solitude of Prime Numbers

“His father quickly disappeared into the kitchen, as if looking for an excuse to get away. Mattia thought that that was all that was left, that parental affection resolves itself into small solicitudes, the concerns his parents listed on the telephone every Wednesday: food, heat and cold, tiredness, sometimes money. Everything else lay as if submerged at unreachable depths, in a mass of subjects never addressed, excuses to be made and received and memories to be corrected, which would remain unchanged.”

lives of girls and women

munro_cover“People’s lives, in Jubilee as elsewhere, were dull, simple, amazing, and unfathomable – deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum.”

“There is a change coming i think in the lives of girls and women. Yes. But it is up to us to make it come. All women have had up till now has been their connection with men. All we have had. No more lives of our own, really, than domestic animals. He shall hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force, a little closer than his dog, a little dearer than his horse. Tennyson wrote that. It’s true. Was true.”

“[…] it was not so different from all the other advice handed out to women, to girls, advice that assumed being female made you damageable, that a certain amount of carefulness and solemn fuss and self-protection were called for, whereas men were supported to be able to go out and take on all kinds of experiences and shuck off what they didn’t want and come back proud. Without even thinking about it, I had decided to do the same.”

“The gymnastics of his mind I did not admire, for people only admire abilities similar to, though greater than, their own.”

“<<You have to learn to face things sometime.>>
I did not like the way she said this. Her briskness and zeal seemed false and vulgar. I did not trust her. Always when people tell you you will have to face this sometime, when they hurry you matter-of-factly towards whatever pain or obscenity or unwelcome revelation is laid out for you, there is this edge of betrayal, this cold, masked, imperfectly hidden jubilation in their voices, something greedy for your hurt. Yes, in parents, too; in parents particularly.”

“If we had been older we would certainly have hung on, haggled over the price of reconciliation, explained and justified and perhaps forgiven, and carried this into the future with us, but as it was we were close enough to childhood to believe in the absolute seriousness and finality of some fights, unforgivability of some blows. We had seen in each other what we could not bear, and we had no idea that people do see that, and go on, and hate and fight and try to kill each other, various ways, then love some more.”

“This was the normal thing in Jubilee; reading books was something like chewing gum, a habit to be abandoned when the seriousness and satisfactions of adult like took over. It persisted mostly in unmarried ladies, would have been shameful in a man.”

“I saw the buildings along the main street and it seemed they had a message for me, something concerning the temporary, and playful, and joyously improbable nature of the world.”

windows on the world

“Ce n’est plus pareil, on ne vénère plus le fric, les gens en sont dégoutés mais ne savent pas comment vivre autrement, alors ils se font masser la nuque, s’allongent sur des divans, trompent leur femme avec leur maîtresse et leur maîtresse avec un mec, ils cherchent l’amour, ils achètent des boîtes de vitamines, appuient sur l’accélérateur, klaxonnent, oui, c’est ça l’universelle course désolée, ils klaxonnent pour qu’on sache qu’il existent.”

the course of love

“The ordinary challenging relationship remains a strangely and unhelpfully neglected topic. It’s the extremes that repeatedly grab the spotlight – the entirely blissful partnerships or the murderous catastrophes — and so it is hard to know what we should make of, and how lonely we should feel about, such things as immature rages, late-night threats of divorce, sullen silences, slammed doors and everyday acts of thoughtlessness and cruelty.

Ideally, art would give us the answers that other people don’t. This might even be one of the main points of literature: to tell us what society at large is too prudish to explore. The important books should be those that leave us wondering, with relief and gratitude, how the author could possibly have known so much about our lives.

But too often a realistic sense of what an endurable relationship is ends up weakened by silence, societal or artistic. We hence imagine that things are far worse for us than they are for other couples. Not only are we unhappy; we misunderstand how freakish and rare our form of unhappiness might be. We end up believing that our struggles are indications of having made some unusual and fundamental error, rather than evidence that our marriages are essentially going entirely according to plan.”

“Without patience for negotiation, there is bitterness: anger that has forgotten where it came from. There is a nagger who wants it done now and can’t be bothered to explain why. And there is a naggee who no longer has the heart to explain that his or her resistance is grounded in some sensible counter-arguments or, alternatively, in some touching and perhaps even forgivable flaws of character.

The two parties just hope the problems – so boring to them both – will simply go away.”

“At the heart of a sulk lies a confusing mixture of intense anger and an equally intense desire not to communicate what one is angry about. The sulker both desperately needs the other person to understand and yet remains utterly committed to doing nothing to help them do so. The very need to explain forms the kernel of the insult: if the partner requires an explanation, he or she is clearly not worthy of one. We should add that it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk: it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their un-spoken hurt. It is one of the odder gifts of love.”

“The forthrightness of the middle-aged seducer is rarely a matter of confidence or arrogance; it is instead a species of impatient despair born of a pitiful awareness of the ever-increasing proximity of death.”

“Infatuations aren’t delusions. That way a person has of holding their head may truly indicate someone confident, wry and sensitive; they really may have the humor and intelligence implied by their eyes and the tenderness suggested by their mouth. The error of the infatuation is more subtle: a failure to keep in mind the central truth of human nature that everyone — not merely our current partners, in whose multiple failings we are such experts — but everyone will have something substantially and maddeningly wrong with them when we spend more time around them, something so wrong as to make a mockery of those initially rapturous feelings.

The only people who can still strike us as normal are those we don’t yet know very well. The best cure for love is to get to know them better.”

“[…] a couple would speak thus: ‘We accept not to panic when, some years from now, what we are doing today will seem like the worst decision of our lives. Yet we promise not to look around, either, for we accept that there cannot be better options out there. Everyone is always impossible. We are a demented species.’

After the solemn repetition of the last sentence by the congregation, the couple would continue: ‘We will endeavor to be faithful. At the same time, we are certain that never being allowed to sleep with anyone else is one of the tragedies of existence. We apologize that our jealousies have made this peculiar but sound and non-negotiable restriction very necessary. We promise to make each other the sole repository of our regrets, rather than distribute them through a life of sexual Don Juan-ism. We have surveyed the different options for unhappiness and it is to each other we have chosen to bind ourselves.’

Spouses who had been cheated on would no longer be at liberty furiously to complain that they had expected their partner to be content with them alone. Instead they could more poignantly and justly cry, `I was relying on you to be loyal to the specific variety of compromise and unhappiness which our hard-won marriage represents.’ Thereafter, an affair would be a betrayal not of intimate joy, but of a reciprocal pledge to endure the disappointments of marriage with bravery and stoic reserve.”

“Attachment theory, developed by the psychologist John Bowlby and colleagues in England in the 1950s, traces the tensions and conflicts of relationships back to our earliest experience of parental care. A third of the population of Europe and North America is estimated to have experienced some form of early parental disappointment (see C. B. Vassily, 2013), with the result that primitive defense mechanisms have been engaged – in order to ward off fears of intolerable anxiety – and capacities for trust and intimacy have been disrupted. In his great work ‘Separation Anxiety’ (1951), Bowlby argues that those who have been let down by the early family environment will generally develop two kinds of responses when they grow up and face difficulties or ambiguities in relationships: first, a tendency towards fearful, clinging and controlling behavior — the pattern Bowlby calls ‘anxious attachment’ — and second, an inclination towards a defensive retreating maneuver, which he calls ‘avoidant attachment’. The anxious person is prone to check up on their partner constantly, to have explosions of jealousy and to spend a lot of their lives regretting that their relationships are not ‘closer’. The avoidant person for their part will speak of a need for ‘space’, they’ll enjoy their own company and will find requirements for sexual intimacy daunting at points. Up to 70 per cent of patients seeking couples’ therapy will exhibit either the anxious or the avoidant mode of behavior. Very frequently, couples will contain one avoidant partner  and one anxious one, with each set of responses aggravating the other in a spiral of declining trust.[…] An avoidant attachment style is marked by a strong desire to avoid conflict and to reduce exposure to the other when emotional needs have not been met. The avoidant person quickly presumes that others are keen to attack them and that they cannot be reasoned with. One just has to escape, pull up the drawbridge and go cold. Regrettably, the avoidant party cannot normally explain their fearful and defensive pattern to their partner, so that the reasons behind their distant and absent behavior remain clouded and are easy to mistake for being uncaring and unengaged, when in fact the opposite is true: the avoidant party cares very deeply indeed, it is just that loving has come to feel far too risky.”

how we are hungry

eggars“There is no way or reason to be subtle about why Pilar was in Costa Rica. At thirty-one she was still unmarried and Hand was one of her few old friends also still unmarried, and the only attractive old friend she’d never slept with. So she knew, when she hung up the phone with Hand five weeks prior, that she would sleep with him in Alta, and she knew it on the plane and on the drive to the coast.
Was she in any way saddened by the predictability of the outcome? Was it unromantic? She decided that it was not. Sex and things like sex – things people pretend they regret – weren’t about a decision made in a heated moment. The decision is made when you leave the house, when you get on a plane, when you dial a number.”

“San Jose looked like L.A. circa 1973, and she puttered through the city weirdly horny. The heat maybe. The volume of the sidewalks maybe. She watched women through her windshield and they watched her. She found an English-language station and on it Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and she thought she would burst. She was happy, and she’d been for a few years able to recognize it, just dumb happiness, when it came, whatever its cause. When people asked how she was, she said Happy, and this made some people angry.”


city“Ani de tragedie domestica anulati cu o fraza de doi lei. Grotesc. Dar de zeci de ori e asa, e asa aproape mereu: descoperi la urma ca durerea, toata acea durere, era inutila, ca ati suferit ca niste animale, si era inutil, nu era nici drept, nici nedrept, nu era frumos sau urat, era doar inutil, tot ce poti spune la final e “A fost o durere inutila”. Sa-ti vina sa innebunesti, nu alta, cand te gandesti, mai bine nu te gandesti, tot ce poti face e sa nu te mai gandesti, niciodata, intelegi?”

“Trebuie sa incetez, se gandi.
Nu ajungi nicaieri asa.
Ar fi fost totul mai simplu daca nu ti-ar fi bagat in cap chestia asta cu ajunsul undeva, daca te-ar fi invatat, mai degraba, sa fii fericit stand nemiscat. Toate povestile alea despre drumul tau. Sa-ti gasesti drumul. Sa mergi pe drumul tau. Poate ca suntem facuti sa traim intr-o piata, sau intr-un parc, opriti pe loc, asteptand sa treaca viata, poate ca suntem o rascruce, lumea are nevoie sa ramanem pe loc, ar fi un dezastru daca am pleca, la un moment dat pe drumul nostru, ce drum? Altii sunt drumurile, eu sunt o piata, nu duc nicaieri, eu sunt un loc.”

“- […] cand esti tanar, durerea te loveste si e ca si cum s-ar trage in tine… e sfarsitul, ti se pare ca e sfarsitul… durerea e ca un foc de arma, te arunca in aer, e ca o explozie… ti se pare fara de leac, un lucru iremediabil, definitiv… chestia e ca nu te astepti la ea, asta e miezul problemei, ca atunci cand esti tanar nu te astepti la durere, si ea te surprinde, si mirarea e cea care te duce de nas, mirarea. Mirarea, intelegi?
– Da.
– Cand esti batran… adica atunci cand imbatranesti… nu mai exista mirarea asta, nu mai reuseste sa te ia prin surprindere… o simti, asta da, dar e numai oboseala care se adauga oboselii, nu mai explodeaza nimic, intelegi? E ca si cum cineva ti-ar pune niste kilograme in spate. E ca si cum ai merge si ai avea pantofii tot mai uzi de la noroi, si grei. La un moment dat te opresti, si acolo se termina. Dar nu sari in aer, ca atunci cand esti tanar, nu mai e ca atunci.”


metroland“Presupun ca acum sunt on mare. […] Adult, da, si aceasta este o mangaiere de ordin general. Sau cel putin trag concluzia ca asa ar trebui sa fie. In urma cu cativa ani eram ingrijorat de asta in chip obsedant. De ce nu am bagat de seama semaforul schimbat in verde, sau un anunt oarecare venit din boxe, un semn celest (nu prea public) care sa ma anunte ca am dat lovitura? Dar sentimentul acesta a inceput sa-mi treaca; si in buna masura pentru ca nu m-a luat nimeni la rost. N-a venit nimeni la mine sa-mi zica “Ai evitat lupta aceea, prin urmare nu esti barbat, du-te inapoi si ia-o de la capat, cu o garnitura absolut noua de principii si handicapuri”. Eu credeam ca asta mi se va intampla, si ca avea sa vina asupra mea pe furis; dar oamenii sunt cumsecade. Uneori banuiesc ca acest concept de maturitate este sustinut gratie unei conspiratii a amabilitatii.”

“Totul mi se parea, intr-un fel sau altul, relevant, totul imi lasa impresia ca ma implineste si-mi ascute sensibilitatea. Si, in definitiv, care este menirea vietii, daca nu asta?”

Julian Barnes – Metroland

big brother

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver“At least for me it had been a revelation to see Travis, since it’s always a revelation to see images of your parents younger than you are now. Suddenly all the surety and authority you’ve accorded them falls away, and these glimpses of outsize icons as ordinary lost people with no road map, no special access to the truth or justice or to anything, really – well, such epiphanies are tender and sweet and frightening all at the same time.”

“Confronting a photograph of oneself is always a fraught business, for one’s own image doesn’t merely evoke the trivial fretting of “I had no idea my nose was so big”. This sounds idiotic, but every time I encounter a picture of myself I am shocked to have been seen. I do not, under ordinary circumstances, feel seen. When I walk down the street, my experience is of looking. Manifest to myself in the ethereal privacy of my head, I grow alarmed when presented with evidence of my public body. This is quite a different matter from whatever dissatisfaction I may harbor over the heft of my ass. It is more a matter of having an ass, any ass, that other people can ogle, criticize or grasp, and being staggered that to others this formation, whatever its shape, has something to do with me. Every once in a while I can connect a droll set of my facial muscles with the real, in-head experience of finding something funny and keeping the source of this amusement to myself. But in the main, I fail utterly to recognize myself, the me of me, in my photographs. I do not identify with the cropped, once naturally blond head of hair with a tendency to frizz; when I have again neglected to color the roots for three solid months, the camera chastises, but I know that walking around with gray down the center part feels exactly the same as when the gray is covered. I’m not convinced that my elemental self even has hair. I do not identify with my short fingers; my relationship to my hands is to what they do, and digital stubbiness has never impaired their competent folding of buttermilk biscuit dough. I do not feel like someone with a neck lately on the thick side, with its implications of low sophistication and loutishness; I grew up in LA, for heaven’s sake. About all I truly recognize in my photos is my clothes – and I will greet the image of a quilted jacket from 1989 with the joy of meeting a long-lost friend. The fact that my clothing has been visually available to other people, I do not find upsetting. The body is another matter. It is mine; I have found it useful; but it is an avatar.

Given that most people presumably contend with just this rattling disconnect between who they are to themselves and what they are to others, it’s perplexing why we’re still roundly obsessed with appearance. Having verified on our own accounts the feeble link between the who and the what, you’d think that from the age of three we’d have learned to look straight through the avatar as we do through a pane of glass.”

Lionel Shriver – Big Brother

nu sunt nebun, frate

novecento“Mai bine sa nu te gandesti la astfel de lucruri, altminteri te apuca nebunia. Cand cade un tablou. Cand te trezesti intr-o dimineata si nu o mai iubesti. Cand deschizi ziarul si citesti ca a izbucnit razboiul. Cand vezi un tren si te gandesti “eu trebuie sa plec de aici“. Cand te privesti in oglinda si iti dai seama ca esti batran.”

“Nu sunt nebun, frate. Nu suntem nebuni cand gasim o modalitate de a ne salva. Suntem vicleni ca niste animale infometate. Nu-i nebunie asta. E geniu. Este geometrie. Perfectiune. Dorintele erau gata sa-mi sfasie inima. Puteam sa le traiesc, dar n-am reusit.
Atunci le-am vrajit.
Si le-am lasat una cate una in urma mea.”

Alessandro Baricco – Novecento